As we enter a pivotal election year, Democrats are grappling with the idea that keeping the House and securing the Senate might not come as easily as when the “blue wave” rolled across the nation in 2018. The victory of Glenn Youngkin in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race was perhaps the first sign of difficulty ahead for Democrats competing in the 2022 midterm cycle. Were there indicators before the Virginia race that indicated an uphill battle for Democrats? We treat the 2020 South Carolina Senate race as a case study for Democrats’ struggle to remain competitive among a rapidly polarizing electorate.
This article analyzes the South Carolina U.S. Senate race between incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham and former Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison. We detail the history of South Carolina Senate races, explore the political legacies of Graham and Harrison, and compare the sources and uses of donations that fueled a historically expensive race. Our analysis concludes that despite increasing competitiveness for Democrats in conservative strongholds, the Harrison-Graham race should have been a sobering bellwether of diminishing confidence among the national electorate in the Democratic Party.